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The Convict's Tale - Harper's

 

IN the gloomy cell of the condemned were two persons. A muscular and powerfully-made man, heavily ironed, sat on a low bench placed in one corner. At a glance an observer would have pronounced him a native of Ireland. His head was well-formed, and covered with a thick mass of curling hair, of a light-brown color. The form of his mouth indicated courage and decision, and in the large blue eyes there was a thrilling expression of suffering and despair, which is never seen among the hardened in crime. It seemed as if the over-burdened spirit looked forth from those mirrors of the soul, and in his extremity asked sympathy and consolation from those among whom his fearful lot was cast.

His companion was a Catholic priest, the tones of whose voice, as he spoke in soothing accents to the condemned, were soft and clear as those of a woman.

The prisoner spoke, and his voice sounded dull and hollow. Hope was extinguished in his soul, and all the lighter inflections which express the varied emotions stirring within us, had ceased to vary the monotonous sounds which issued from his lips. A few more hours, and for him Time would have ceased to revolve. What then had he to do with human aspirations—with human joys? Nothing: his fate on earth was known—an outlaw's life, a felon's death!

The prisoner folded his manacled hands over his breast, and said:

"Why should I seek to prolong my wretched existence by asking such a commutation of my sentence? Death is but one pang, whereas solitary confinement for life, to which I should probably be doomed, would be a living torture. To live forever alone! Think what that must be even to a man innocent of crime, and feel how far worse than the bed of Procrustes it must be to one like me. No, holy father, let me die before the time appointed by Nature. Thus let the tender mercies of my race toward me be consummated."

"You are reckless, my son," said the priest, mildly. "Think how far worse it will be to face an offended Judge in your present mood, than to live for repentance."

"Repentance!" repeated the prisoner, in the same passionless manner; "that is ever the jargon of your cloth, father: you condemn a man without adverting to the motives, which, in his view, often sanctify the act."

The priest looked at him rebukingly. As if the slumbering energies of his impetuous nature were suddenly aroused by that look, the prisoner started from his seat; his pale features glowed; his eyes sparkled with fury, as he exclaimed: "Yes, I would again trample the life out of the wretch who murdered my love by deception and ill-treatment with as little, ay, with less compunction than if he had planted his dagger in her heart."

He covered his face with his hands, and large tears fell over them. Passionless as he was, the priest was touched by this overwhelming emotion in one who had hitherto been so passive. He laid his hand on the sufferer's arm, and kindly said: "Tell me, my son, how it was."

Melting beneath the voice of friendly sympathy, the murderer wept like a child. When he became calmer, he said:—

I will give you the history of my life, and you may judge me:

I was born on a wild and rock-bound portion of the coast of Ireland. My father was at the head of a small and wretchedly-built village, whose inhabitants were all, with one exception, wreckers. You have heard of those lawless and hardened men who exist on the spoils of unfortunate mariners, whose destruction is often brought about through means of false lights placed as beacons of safety. Fit parentage, you will say, for the murderer!

My mother died before I can remember her; and the schoolmaster of the parish was the only one who ever spoke to me of higher and nobler pursuits than those followed by my father's adherents. The dominie was a poor creature, whose necessities compelled him to abide in our neighborhood, though his moral sense was greatly shocked at the crimes which were often perpetrated around him. He fancied that he discovered some superiority in me to the other urchins who were taught to read in his turf-built hovel, and many hours did he employ in endeavoring to impress on my young mind the great evil of spending a life in such a pursuit as that to which I seemed destined. The good man died while I was yet a mere child, and I soon forgot his lectures. The schoolroom was abandoned for the ocean, and I grew up a promising pupil of my father's wild occupation. Young, buoyant, full of activity, I was ardently attached to the adventurous life I led. My moral perceptions were not active, and there was a keen delight in dashing through the surf, when the billows threatened each moment to ingulf my boat, in pursuit of the wealth the greedy waves seemed eager to claim as their prey.

I can not deny that in this absorbing object the shrieks of drowning wretches were too often unheeded, while we appropriated their property; but I can truly say that I was never deaf to the voice of entreaty, and frequently drew on myself the anger of my father by saving those whose claims on his spoils sometimes seriously interfered with the profits of the expedition. He never, however, refused to relinquish property thus claimed; for he was exceedingly desirous of allowing no serious cause of complaint to reach the ears of those who might make him feel the strong arm of authority, even in the out-of-the-way place in which he had fixed his residence. At an early age I considered myself as having no superior in my wild occupation. The strong energies of my nature had no other outlet. For days I would remain alone on the ocean, with the storm careering around my frail boat, and at such times my restless soul would look into the Future, and ask of Fate if such was ever to be my lot. My thoughts often soared beyond the limited horizon of my home, and I made several excursions among the cities of my native island; but I was glad to return to my wild retreat. Uncouth in manners and appearance, ignorant of the conventional forms of society, I keenly felt my inferiority to the only class among whom I would have deigned to dwell. After such humiliation I enjoyed a fiercer pleasure in my solitary excursions on the deep.

I can not say that my life was passed without excess. In such a home as mine, that would have been impossible. The frequent brawl, the wassail-bowl and drunken revel were almost of nightly occurrence; and I was fast sinking into the mere robber and inebriate, when an event occurred which rescued me for a time from the abyss on the brink of which I was standing.

He paused, as if nerving himself for what was to follow, and the priest gazed with strong interest on his features, over which swept many wild emotions, occasionally softened by a gleam of tenderer feeling. He at length proceeded:—

One evening, in the stormy month of March, a ship was seen from our look-out, drifting at the mercy of the wind and waves. The sky was a mass of leaden clouds, and the sun as it sank from view, threw a lurid glare over the angry waters, such as one might fancy to arise from the deepest abyss of Hades. My father ordered the false light to be shown, which had already brought swift destruction on many a gallant bark. I knew not why, but my heart was interested in the fate of this vessel, and I opposed his commands.

"Are you mad?" said he, sternly; "do you not see that this is a ship of the largest class, and the spoils must be great?"

"But her decks are crowded with human beings," said I, lowering the glass through which I had been surveying her; "and there are many women among them. Put not up the false light, I conjure you. If she founders, the spoils are legitimately yours, but—"

Even as I spoke the baleful light streamed far up into the rapidly darkening air; a private signal had been given to one of his men, and it was now too late to remonstrate. I rushed to my own boat, calling on a boy, who sometimes accompanied me on such occasions, to follow. One glance at the ship assured me that in five minutes she would be on the sunken rock over which the light gleamed, and no human power could prevent her from instantly going to pieces. My boat had weathered many a storm as severe as this threatened to be, and I was fearless as to the result. I resolved to die, or save some of the helpless creatures I had seen on the deck of the doomed ship. A whistle brought a large Newfoundland dog to my side, and in a very short time I was launched on the waves of the heaving ocean. My father nodded approvingly to me, thinking that I had made up my mind to assist as usual in rescuing our game from the waves.

"Right, my boy!" said he, through his speaking trumpet: "all you save to-night shall belong to yourself alone."

I was borne beyond the reach of his voice, and as I turned my face toward the ship, there came a violent burst of thunder which seemed to fill the echoing vault of heaven, attended by a continual flashing of lightning. Mingled with its awful roar was a cry more terrible still, that of human agony uttering its wild appeal to heaven for mercy in the last dire extremity. The ship had struck, and hundreds were cast into the ocean. The struggling wretches vainly raised their arms from the foaming waters, and implored help from those who could have saved them had they so willed it. The boats passed on and left them to their fate.

Having only myself and the boy to propel my boat, we did not reach the scene of action so soon as the rest. As I came within speaking distance, my father shouted to me to save a large box which was in reach of my boat-hooks, but I was deaf to his voice. Also near me were two of the unfortunate persons who had been shipwrecked. A man, with a female form clasped to his breast, was feebly struggling with the waves. I saw that his strength was nearly exhausted, and that before I could reach him both must sink. Then came my noble dog to my assistance. I pointed to the sinking forms: Hector sprang into the water, and swam to the side of the unfortunates; he seized the dress of the lady, made an effort to sustain both against the force of the raging waves, and turned a piteous glance on me as he felt their united weight too much for his strength. "Courage, old fellow!" I shouted, and made a desperate plunge with my boat to reach them. The impetus of the rising billow sent me past them. The father, for such I knew him to be, with sublime self-sacrifice relaxed his hold, and turning his death-pale face toward me, uttered some words which were lost amid the howling of the blast, and sank forever from my sight. Relieved of the double weight, Hector now gallantly struck out for my boat, and in a short space of time I had drawn the senseless girl from the waves. I wrapped her in my sailor's jacket, and used every means in my power to restore her. A few drops of brandy from a small flask I carried in my pocket, brought a faint shade of color to her cheeks and lips, and presently she unclosed her eyes and gazed wildly around. With a shudder she again closed them, and seemed to relapse into insensibility.

"She must have immediate attention, or she will perish!" I exclaimed, and I bent vigorously to the oar. Barney steered, and I never for an instant raised my eyes from the sweet pale face before me until my boat grated on the strand.

Never have I seen so purely beautiful a countenance as was hers. It seemed to me to be the mortal vesture chosen by one of the angels of heaven to express to earthly souls all the attributes of the children of light. She was fair as the lily which has just unfolded its stainless leaves to the kisses of the sun, with hair of a bright golden hue clinging in damp curls around her slender form. Her eyes were of the color of the cloudless summer heaven, and the pale lips were so exquisitely cut that a sculptor might have been proud to copy them for his beau ideal of human loveliness. I gazed, and worshiped this creature rescued by myself from the jaws of destruction. Hitherto I had thought little of love. The specimens of the female sex in our rough settlement were, as may be supposed, not of a very attractive description. Coarse, uneducated, toil-worn women, and girls who promised in a few years to emulate their mothers in homeliness, possessed no charms for me. It is true, that in my occasional visits to the more civilized portions of my country, I saw many of the beautiful and gently nurtured, but they were placed so far above me that it would have seemed as rational to become enamored of the fairest star in heaven, and think to make it mine. But this lovely girl had been rescued by me; her life had been my gift, and she seemed of right to belong to me. All, save herself, had perished in the wreck; she was probably alone in the world, and I hugged to my soul the hope that in me, her preserver, she would find father, brother, lover, all united.

My thoughts were interrupted by the voice of my father, who had just landed with a boat-load of bales and boxes.

"How is this, Erlon?" he thundered. "Have you again dared to save life, and neglect the object of our expedition? Fool! you will yet be driven forth as a drone from the hive. The girl's dead; throw her into the sea; she will be a dainty morsel for the sharks."

The girl raised her head as he spoke, and cast a wild look around her.

"Father! oh, where is my father?" said she, in a piercing tone. "O God, let me die!" and she clasped her hands over her eyes as if to shut out the vision of the swarthy, reckless-looking men who pressed forward to gaze upon her.

"Hear her prayer," said the old man, brutally; "in with her at once! We want no witnesses against us of this night's work."

He stepped forward as if to put his threat in execution. She shivered, and shrank beneath the covering I had placed around her. I arose, and stepping between them, said,

"You must first throw me in; for, by the heaven above us, we both go together! I have your own promise for all I succeeded in saving, and I claim this waif as my own."

"Be it so," said he, sneeringly; "I always knew you to be an idiot. A profitable adventure, truly, this is likely to prove to you."

"I am satisfied with it, at all events," I replied, and he strode away. I then turned to the young girl, and said in as soft a tone as I command,

"Fear nothing, beautiful being. I am rough in appearance, but my heart is in the right place. I will protect you. I will be to you a friend."

"Am I then alone?" she asked, in an accent of indescribable anguish. "Oh, why did you not suffer me to perish with the rest? Wretched, wretched Alice! to survive all that loved her!"

"Not all, lady, for I am here," I said, naïvely.

"You! I know you not; all—all have perished. Forgive me," she continued, seeing the blank expression of my countenance; "I know not what I say. The wretched are excusable."

"Ah!" I replied with fervor, "I am too happy in being made the instrument of serving such a being as you are to take any offense at words wrung from the over-burdened heart. Come with me, fair Alice, and I will place you in safety." I conducted her to the cottage of an old woman, who had been my nurse. Though rough and frightful, she was kindly in her nature, and I knew would do any thing to oblige me.

The narrator paused, arose, and rapidly paced the floor, his hands nervously working, and the cold drops streaming from his corrugated brow. He again threw himself upon his seat, and remained so long silent that the priest ventured to speak to him:

"My friend, time passes. The sun is going to his rest, and beyond that hour I can not remain."

"Pardon me," said the prisoner, in a subdued tone; "but the recollections that crowd on my mind madden me. Think what it is to me, the condemned, the outcast, to speak of past happiness. It is like rending apart soul and body, to dwell on bright scenes amid the profound yet palpable darkness of guilt and woe that is ever present with me. 'The heart knoweth its own bitterness,' was once quoted to me by her lips. Ah! how overwhelmingly significant is that phrase to the guilt-stricken! My God, my God! pardon and forgive; for thou knowest the provocation."

The priest breathed a few words of consolation and hope, and again the bitter waves of anguish rolled back from his soul, and left him calm. He sat a few moments silent, as if recalling the scenes he was about to depict; his brow cleared, his eyes lighted up with love and joy. For a few moments the magic of the happy past seemed to hold complete sway over his mind. He continued:

Heretofore my character had been undeveloped. The master-passion was required to show me my true nature. As the warmth of the sun is needful to give life and beauty to the productions of earth, so the soul of man remains in its germ until love has aroused and expanded his being into the more perfect state of existence. All the better feelings of my nature were brought into action, for I loved a being far superior to myself; one who I felt would long ere this have perished in the atmosphere of evil in which I had been reared. Until I knew this pure girl I had never felt all the degradation, the debasing effects of my mode of life; but now I blushed before her, and resolved to rescue myself from my associates and become worthy of her.

Alice was many weeks recovering from the shock she had sustained, and the subsequent exposure. During that time a portion of our men, headed by my father, had perished in one of their expeditions. I thus became by hereditary descent the head of the village. In pursuance of my recent determinations, I at once delegated my authority to a nephew of my nurse, the same Reardon on whose body I have since perpetrated such fell revenge as he merited. I learned from Alice that the ship was bound for New York, from Liverpool, and five hundred souls were on board when she struck. And must so many perish to bring thee to my side? was my thought; for I felt that she was the guardian angel sent to save me from utter destruction.

For many days after the storm bodies were washed on shore, which were thrown into one common grave. Among them I recognized the father of Alice, and gave him sepulture with my own hands. I selected a small headland which sloped gradually toward the sea; the green sward was shaded by a single thorn-tree, beneath whose shelter I placed the grave of the unfortunate stranger. When Alice had sufficiently recovered to walk to the spot, I led her thither, and pointed out the mound which marked his resting-place. She thanked me with many tears, and from that hour I date the commencement of my interest in her heart.

On that spot I learned the simple history of Alice. Her father was an officer on half-pay in the British army. He had no influential connections, and never rose beyond the rank of lieutenant. A severe wound received in the battle of Waterloo affected his health so seriously that he was compelled to retire from active service; but his pension supported himself and his only child in comfort. As his health, however, visibly declined, he anxiously contemplated the future fate of his daughter; and after mature reflection resolved to visit the United States in search of a brother who had emigrated to that country many years before, and had there accumulated a fortune. Alice said she had no other relatives except the family of this uncle. In the wide world she was alone, without the means of reaching him, even if she could have remembered the place of his abode. Many of her father's effects had been saved, but among them were no letters or papers which gave any information relative to the residence of Mr. Crawford.

During the illness of Alice I had busied myself in preparing for her an abode removed a short distance from the village. About half a mile from the sea stood a lonely and deserted cottage, sheltered by several fine trees. The rank grass had overgrown the walks in the garden, and the few shrubs which some unknown hand had planted around the house, had spread in wild luxuriance over the miniature lawn. I put every thing in order myself. The ruined portico was securely propped, and the graceful vine made to trail its foliage over the rustic pillars which supported it. Among the accumulated stores of my deceased father, concealed in vaults constructed for the purpose, I sought the richest carpets for the floor, and the most beautifully-wrought fabrics, with which the mildewed walls were hung. I made a visit to a distant town, and secretly purchased every article of luxury which could be desired in the household of the most delicately-nurtured of Fashion's daughters.

When Vine Cottage, as I named the place, was ready for the reception of its mistress, I secretly induced old Elspeth to remove thither; and after spending an hour of sweet communion at her father's grave, I persuaded Alice to walk with me in the direction of the cottage. As we drew near it, she expressed her admiration of its simply elegant appearance, and seemed surprised to find so neat a residence in such a vicinity.

"A friend of mine lives here, dear Alice," said I; "let us visit her."

Alice acquiesced with an air of interest, and I led her forward. Elspeth met us at the door. I will not attempt to describe her astonishment and delight when she found that this charming place was to be her future abode. She turned her beautiful eyes on me, humid with tears, and said:

"You must be the possessor of Aladdin's wonderful lamp to accomplish so much in so short a time. But, no, I wrong you, Erlon; perseverance and affection are the true sources of what you have here accomplished. I can never sufficiently thank you, my friend, my brother!"

"No, not a brother," said I, abruptly; "I love you far better than a brother."

Elspeth had left us, and I poured forth my passion with eloquence inspired by its own intensity. I ended by saying:

"I do not ask you to live forever in this horrible neighborhood. Since I have known you I have ceased to be a wrecker. Never since that eventful night have I gone forth with the band, and from the hour of my father's death his authority has been given by me into the hands of my namesake, Erlon Reardon."

Alice slightly shuddered at the mention of his name, but at the moment I was so absorbed in my own feelings that I did not observe her emotion. She answered my passionate declaration, as nearly as I can remember, in the following words, pronounced with a sweet seriousness which was very impressive:

"I will not deny, Erlon, that your delicate kindness, from one from whom I could least have expected it, has made a deep impression on my feelings; and that impression is perhaps heightened by my forlorn and destitute condition. But I can not conceal from you that I will never consent to marry a man who has, only through his passion for me, torn himself from a pursuit opposed alike by the laws of God and humanity. Your sorrow for the past must come from a higher source. Your soul must be bowed in humility before the throne of Him whose commands you have outraged, and your life must show the effects of your repentance, before I would dare to trust my earthly lot in your keeping."

"What more can I do?" I bitterly asked. "I was born and have been reared in darkness, and if I am willing to accept the light which first shone on my benighted path through your agency, do I not manifest a desire to improve?"

"But I fear that you regard the weak instrument more than Him who threw me in your way," she replied, with a faint smile. "But let us not misunderstand each other, Erlon. I joyfully accept the mission which has been appointed me. I see so much in you that is excellent, so much that is noble, that to me it will be a delightful task to assist you in overcoming the evil which is naturally foreign to your soul. The day will arrive when I can with confidence place my hand in yours as your wife, even as I now give it as your plighted bride."

I rapturously received it; but after a vain attempt to repress my feelings, I entreated her to wed me then, and I would never cease striving after the excellence she wished me to attain. But on that score she was obdurate. Her hand must be the reward of my entire reformation, not the precursor of it.

From that period I spent the greater portion of my time with Alice. She was passionately fond of reading, and, what few women are, an excellent classic scholar. She accounted for this by informing me that her father had been originally designed for the church, and was educated with that view; but afterward rebelled against the parental decree, and entered the army. He was a passionate admirer of the old authors, and imparted to his daughter his own knowledge of, and exceeding love for their beauties.

Among the things cast on shore from the ship was a box of Mr. Crawford's treasured books, and to them I added such modern works as were most congenial to the taste of Alice. I have mentioned that my education had not proceeded much beyond its first elements, and now for the first time did I begin to appreciate the intense enjoyment found in literary pursuits. I studied deeply, and was soon competent to converse with my mistress on the beauties of her favorite authors. We then read together, and I sought, while reading aloud the impassioned strains of the poet, to express by the varied intonations of my voice the tender and soul-thrilling emotions with which my listener inspired me; for I felt when near her an ineffable satisfaction, as if the soul had found its better part, and the being that was needed to complete my existence was beside me. A holy calm pervaded my whole being—springing not from the dull listlessness which falls over the stupid or inert, but from the fullness of content. The assurance that I was making myself daily more worthy to claim this beloved girl as my own, spread through my soul a delicious, all-pervading sense of uninterrupted happiness. No man, however rough, could thus associate with a delicate and refined woman without acquiring some of the elegance which distinguished her. I imperceptibly lost the clownish air which had so often bitterly mortified me; and as my perceptions became more acute I saw in my own manners all that could render me repulsive, and hastened to correct it.

Ah! if Alice would then have married me, all the horror, all the wretchedness which has ensued might have been avoided! But I must not anticipate.

Eighteen months passed thus, and again I urged Alice to listen to my prayers for an immediate union. She replied:

"The time has now arrived when I can express to you the scruples which still fill my mind. Your perceptions are now so correct that I believe you will feel with me that it is wrong for you to retain the wealth your father's pursuit enabled him to accumulate."

"I have thought of this," said I; "but how could it possibly be returned to its rightful owners? Besides, much of it is legally the right of those who rescued it from the ocean at the risk of life. All was not purchased at so fearful a price as when you—"

She interrupted me gently: "It matters not how obtained, Erlon; its possession will bring with it a curse. I can not consent to enjoy property the loss of which, perhaps, consummated the ruin of its rightful owners. You might think, perhaps, that for nearly two years past I have very quietly submitted to this; but the object I had in view in rescuing a human being, capable of better things, from such a life, was my motive; and to my mind it seemed good. But now we must leave this place. Your duty leads you to a higher sphere, where you must seek the means of a more honorable support. While you do this, I will obtain a home among the Sisters of Charity in Dublin, and in acts of mercy and kindness pass the time until you are in circumstances to claim me as your wife."

"No, no! dear Alice, you must not expose yourself to such privations as are endured by those excellent women. I will go forth and seek independence, but you must remain with my good Elspeth; she loves me as a mother, and will watch over you for my sake."

"I can not remain when you leave," said Alice, quietly, but decisively.

I pressed her so earnestly for her reason, and opposed her wish to go so strongly, that she at length said, with great reluctance:

"If you will not be satisfied without a reason, I must give you the true one, Erlon; but promise me that you will not give way to anger."

I gave the desired promise, and she then said in a low tone:

"I should not feel quite safe here in your absence. The nephew of Elspeth, in spite of his knowledge of our engagement, often intrudes himself in my presence, and speaks of his passion for me in words that sometimes terrify me."

I started up in irrepressible wrath:

"Cowardly rascal! I will instantly punish him!"

"Nay, remember your promise, dearest Erlon," said Alice, in her softest tone. I was instantly calmed, so magical was her influence over me, and I seated myself by her side. Our plans were then talked over, and definitely arranged. I proposed to go at once to Dublin, and with a sum of money which had been hoarded by my father, get into some mercantile employment, for which I considered myself well fitted. I promised Alice that so soon as I could possibly spare such a sum the whole amount I had taken from my father's stores should be placed in the hands of a competent person to be dispensed in charities, thus clearing myself of all participation in the fruits of his crimes. She was to obtain an asylum with the Sisters of Charity, as she had proposed; for she steadily refused to be any longer dependent on me until the period had arrived when she should become my wife.

Our intentions were silently but quickly put into execution; and on the third morning after our consultation every thing was in readiness for our departure. Until the carriage I had sent for by a trusty person was at the door, even Elspeth remained in ignorance of our intended flitting. I then sought the village, and announced to the people my final departure. They heard me in silence; the majority of them had already looked on me as one extirpated from their band.

In spite of the change in me, some of the old leaven still remained; and I could not refrain from giving a parting blow to Reardon for having dared to raise his eyes to the object of my adoring love. There had been a feud existing from boyhood between him and a young man named Casey, both born and reared to their present mode of life; and when I withdrew from the command which devolved on me at my father's death, there had been a struggle between the two as to which should assume the authority I resigned. Reardon applied to me, and, as the nephew of my nurse, I preferred him as my successor. As my last act among the villagers I now reversed that decision, and appointed Ira Casey as the representative of my hereditary right. I turned away amid the acclamations of Casey's partisans, and Reardon approached me. His face was pale with concentrated passion, and in his eyes was an expression that for one moment made even my strong nerves quiver. His voice was scarcely above a whisper, but it was peculiarly distinct:

"Though the same arm had enfolded us in infancy, though the same mother had nursed us, I would still have sworn toward you inextinguishable hatred for this cowardly act. If you had left me in peace, I should have forgotten the blue-eyed daughter of the Briton, and have suffered you to live in happiness. But now, in your hour of brightest hope, remember Reardon, and let his name send a thrill of fear to your soul; for I solemnly swear to you to destroy that happiness, if it should cost me my life!"

I laughed aloud, and turned off, saying:

"I defy thee, braggart! The whole village knows how much Erlon Reardon is given to boasting of his future exploits."

"Call it a boast, if you will; but to you it shall yet become a terrible reality."

"Do your worst!" I replied, with a sneer, and hastily waving an adieu to the assembled throng, I hurried toward "Vine Cottage," and in a few moments was borne away from —— forever.

Knowing the catastrophe which has since occurred, you will be surprised to hear that I really had no fear of the machinations of Reardon. I knew him to be a great braggart, as I had said; and his threats against those who offended him were a standing jest in the village, for they had never in any instance been fulfilled. My taunt perhaps stung him into the accomplishment of his words to me; or his passion for Alice was so great as to urge him onward in wrecking her happiness, sooner than see her mine.

Reardon possessed a talent which had frequently afforded me much amusement, and I had never thought of the evil influence it might enable him to wield over those who were not on their guard against him. He was an admirable ventriloquist, and an excellent mimic. Often have I been startled by his voice sounding so exactly like an echo of my own that the nicest ear must have been deceived. We were nearly the same size and not unlike in features, and he could mimic my walk and air so accurately that, by a dim light, my best friend would have declared the counterfeit the true man. Alice was not aware of this, and to spare her some uneasiness I never mentioned the threat of Reardon. From these simple causes sprang all the evil that afterward ensued. Are we not indeed the blind puppets of a fate that is inevitable?

"My son," said the mild voice of the priest, "we make our own fate, and the shadows which darken our path are thrown from the evil passions of our nature. Had you left Reardon to his wild command, you had not now been here, his condemned executioner."

"True, true; but I must hasten. The remaining part of my unhappy story must be told in as few words as possible, or I shall madden over its recital."

We went to Dublin, and put our mutual plans in execution. I was successful beyond my hopes, and anticipated our union at the end of my first year in the capital. I entered into partnership with a substantial trader, and after several months I was compelled to go over to England on business. An advantageous opening for a branch of our trade presented itself in one of the sea-port towns in that country, and I was reluctantly compelled to take charge of it. It was impossible for Alice to leave Ireland until the year had expired for which she had assumed the garb of a Sister of Charity; and though we both repined at our separation, we were compelled to submit to the fate which parted us. We wrote frequently, and it was mutually arranged that at the end of her probation we should be united.

As the time of our union drew near, I was so pressed with affairs of the last importance to my future prosperity, that I found it impossible to leave home long enough to visit Ireland and claim my bride. I wrote to Alice, informing her of the circumstances which detained me; and requested her to take the first packet for Liverpool, where I would meet her and have every thing in readiness for our immediate marriage. A vessel would be in waiting to convey us to my residence, so soon as the ceremony was performed. I sent this letter by my confidential clerk, who, I afterward found, was in the pay of my dire enemy. The answer duly came, promising to be punctual; and words can convey to you no idea of my happiness. "Another week, and she will be mine!" I repeated a thousand times.

I made every arrangement that could promote her comfort; and having chartered a vessel for the purpose, set out with a light heart. The captain of my craft proved, as I then thought, very stupid in the navigation of his vessel; but I afterward knew that he had been bribed to delay my arrival. I did not reach Liverpool until many hours after I should have been married. I hurried with breathless haste to the hotel, and inquired for Miss Crawford. The answer which I there received almost paralyzed me:

"A lady of that name was married here last evening at eight o'clock, and immediately embarked with her husband in a ship bound for America."

"Married! Who then was her husband?" I knew at once; but I need not repeat to you all my frenzied inquiries, nor the dark certainty which fell on my soul that Reardon was the cause of this terrible catastrophe!

He again paced the floor in deep agitation.

"Yes, yes!" he continued; he came indeed in my hour of brightest hopes! I will now tell you what I subsequently heard from the lips of the dying Alice; for once again we met face to face, and I beheld upon her brow the impress of approaching death, and thanked God that it was so. I could without tears lay her in the silent earth, knowing that her pure spirit was with angels; but it rived my soul with unutterable pangs to know that she was the wife of such a wretch as Reardon.

On the night of my expected arrival in Liverpool, Reardon, who was kept informed of all my plans by my perfidious clerk, personated me with such success that even Alice was deceived. He met her in a room very dimly lighted, and under the pretense that he was very much hurried by the captain, who wished to avail himself of wind and tide in his favor, he wore his cloak ready for instant departure. His hair was of the same color, and disposed as I always wore mine; he spoke to her in her lover's voice, and Alice, hurried, agitated, half-blinded by her tears, doubted not that I was beside her. The license was handed to the clergyman, who hurried over the ceremony, and within half an hour after Reardon's appearance at the hotel, they were on board a ship which was ready to sail immediately. They remained on deck until the vessel was many miles from land; and when Reardon felt himself secure in the avowal of his villainy, he resolved to exult in the anguish of his victim. He entered her state-room, and seating himself before her, said:

"Alice Crawford, you acknowledge yourself my lawful wife in the sight of heaven, and you have willingly come on board this ship to accompany me to my home?"

"Assuredly, dear Erlon; why such questions?" said Alice.

"Erlon? yes, Erlon is the name I bear in common with him who is dear to you; and from him have I stolen you. Behold!"

He dropped the cloak, threw of his hat, and stood before her. Alice uttered an exclamation, and fell fainting from her seat. Oh, had she then died! But no; she revived, to know and feel the full bitterness of her lot. Vain were her pathetic entreaties; vain her protestations that she would never consider herself as his wife. In reply to the first he said:

"I love you quite as well as Purcel, and you must make up your mind to fulfill the vows you have this night uttered." And to her threat to appeal to the captain and passengers, and state the diabolical deception he had practiced, he replied:

"I have provided for every contingency, madam. The captain believes you to be my insane wife, whom I am taking to New York on a visit to your parents, in the hope that the sight of your native home may benefit your mind. I have already anticipated your story, and represented it as the vagary of a disordered intellect. My arrangements are all made, and you leave this state-room no more until we reach New York. Withdraw your affections as speedily as possible from Purcel, and centre them on your lawful husband, or it may be worse for you."

Fancy the torture of such a situation to a high-principled and sensitive girl! Reardon was true to his word, and her story was listened to incredulously by the maid, the only person beside himself who was allowed access to her during the voyage. By the time they reached New York her spirit was completely broken, and her health in an alarming state of decay. This enraged Reardon, and he brutally reproached her with grieving over my loss. Indeed, I believe he sometimes proceeded beyond reproaches toward his helpless and now uncomplaining victim. She bore it all in silence, for she felt that death would soon release her from the sufferings she endured.

On their arrival in this city Reardon procured a house, and set his servant as a spy on her during his absence from home. Alice made an attempt to escape from his power, determined to throw herself on the protection of the first person she met who looked as if he might give credence to her story. The servant followed and brought her back to her prison, and when Reardon returned, his anger knew no bounds. Then I know he struck her, for she fell with violence against the sharp corner of a table; and that blow upon her breast hastened the doom that was already impending over her.

To die with him was horrible, and she next found means, through the agency of an intelligent child, who sometimes played beneath her window to send to one of the city papers a letter containing an advertisement addressed to her unknown uncle. She knew that Reardon never read any thing, and equally well, that there was little danger of being discovered by him in this last effort to escape from the horrible thralldom in which she was held.

Several weeks rolled away—weeks of sickening doubts and harrowing fears; but, at length, the hour of her rescue came. One morning, shortly after Reardon had left the house, a carriage stopped before the door, containing an elderly lady and gentleman, who inquired for Alice. It was her uncle and his wife, and after hearing her story he instantly removed her to his hotel, from whence in another hour they started for his residence in the interior of the State, thus eluding all chances of discovery by Reardon.

It was a mere chance that the advertisement had reached Mr. Crawford. When it did, he lost no time in seeking his brother's daughter, and offering her his protection. Alice felt assured that I would follow her, and she yearned to behold me once more, before her eyes closed forever in this world. Yes, she was dying of a broken heart, while I madly plowed the ocean in pursuit of her destroyer. The ship was detained by long calms, and I bowed in abject supplication to the God of the storm, to send us wind that might waft me to the land I so ardently desired to behold. At last, haggard from intense suffering, and half-maddened with the fever of my mind, I stood upon the sod of the New World.

I at once sought out the post-office, for I knew if still living, Alice would there have deposited a clew to her abode. I found a letter from her uncle directing me to his residence, and the last words sent a cold and sickening thrill through my soul: "Come as soon as this reaches you, if you would find Alice alive; her only desire is now to behold you," he wrote. The letter bore the date of the previous month. If I could but see her again, I felt that I could resign her; but to behold no more the being who had become so knit to my very existence; to find the grave closed over that form of unequaled beauty, was a thought which made my brain whirl and my blood grow cold. I learned the route to——, near which place was Mr. Crawford's residence. I took my seat in the first stage-coach which left for that town, and was borne toward my dying Alice. I can not tell you how the day and night which I spent on the road passed. I know that my mind was not perfectly clear; but one idea filled it: Alice, dead or dying, and I condemned to live forever alone. In this wide and breathing world, so filled with human aspirations and human hopes, I felt myself doomed to wander without ties and without sympathy. Then came the image of him who had thus desolated my path, and at once a fixed resolve filled my mind.

When we stopped, I mechanically ate, because I feared that without nourishment the unnatural tension of my nerves might incapacitate me from going through with the trying ordeal which awaited me. I at length reached the house. I dismounted at the gate, and walked up the avenue. My feet seemed glued to the ground, and I faltered like a drunken man, as I slowly drew near the portico, afraid to learn that I had arrived too late.

A gentleman met me at the door, and my parched lips syllabled the name of Alice. He read the question I would have asked, in my agonized and distorted countenance. "She lives," he said, and led me toward her apartment.

The doors were all wide open, for it was summer, and in a darkened room, on a bed whose snowy drapery was scarcely whiter than her face, lay my adored Alice in a calm slumber. I approached and leaned over her: then I could mark the ravages which suffering had made on her sweet features; but I read on her tranquil brow, and in the subdued expression of her small mouth, that the angel of peace had folded his wings over her departing spirit. I felt that her trust in a higher Power had subdued the bitterness of approaching death, and I prayed fervently to be enabled even then to say: "My God, not my will, but Thine be done;" but my rebellious heart would not thus be schooled. A moment I dared to ask why she, who loved all human beings, would turn aside from her path to spare the meanest insect that crawls, should have this unutterable load of suffering laid upon her? My burning tears fell over her; I knew not that I wept, until she unclosed her eyes, and wiped from her cheek a lucid drop which had fallen there. She gazed upon me with a radiant smile; a bright gleam from the heaven to which she was hastening seemed to shine over her lovely countenance, and she stretched forth her emaciated hands to me:

"Ah, I dreamed this. I knew you would come. Heaven is kind to permit another earthly meeting, before I go hence. My beloved Erlon, you are just in time!"

She turned to her uncle, and requested him to leave us alone for a brief space. The old gentleman withdrew, and I then listened to the narrative of her sufferings.

The whirlwind, in its greatest might, is the only fitting type of the wild thoughts and bitter purposes which filled my mind. In the darkest recess of my soul I registered a vow to seek Reardon over the world, until I had signally avenged her wrongs, my own blighted manhood, and darkened future.

Alice then spoke of mercy and peace to all men, and conjured me for my own sake to spare her destroyer. I heard without accurately comprehending her. My future course was irrevocably determined, and with that stupefaction which only the extreme of mental suffering can produce, I listened to her dying words.

In two hours after my arrival the family was called in to receive her last farewell. I supported her upon my breast, which no longer heaved with the wild pulsations of anguish that had so long thrilled in every throb of my heart. No; the worst was known, and above my great sorrow arose the intense and burning desire for revenge. Two great emotions can not exist together: one must succumb to the other.

Alice comprehended something of what was passing in my mind, and almost with her last breath she murmured: "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord."

I muttered: "Ay; but He often chooses earthly instruments by which to accomplish it."

She died; and imprinting a last kiss upon her pale lips, I left the house: I could not remain to perform the last rites to her precious remains.

I wandered in the woods in communion with the spirit of the dead, until the returning stage arrived. I was then borne to the scene of anticipated retribution. It was midnight when I reached New York. I felt that I could not rest: in such a condition of feverish excitement, motion was the only state I could bear, and I hurriedly paced the streets, arranging in my mind the means of discovering my doomed enemy. Day was just beginning to dawn when I passed the open door of an oyster-cellar, from which two men were emerging. A voice spoke which made my blood bubble in my veins. It was Reardon. He said, "I shall leave to-day, or that fool Purcel will be on my track. If that girl had not played me such a trick, I should long since have been buried in the far West, where I would have defied him to find me. I have fooled away too much time in trying to seek her out."

He stepped on the pavement. At that moment a line of rosy light shot upward from the rising sun, and streamed full on my pale and determined countenance. Reardon recoiled and drew his knife from his breast. Not a word was spoken; we rushed on each other, and I sheathed my dagger in his traitorous heart.

The prisoner ceased, and the priest said emphatically: "Your life must be saved, my son. I must now leave you, but you shall hear from me ere long."

We will only add that all the facts of the case being taken into consideration, the sentence of Erlon Purcel was finally changed to imprisonment for ten years. His good conduct caused that time to be reduced to half the term. Once more free, he went to St. Louis, and there joined a band of trappers bound for the far West. Let us hope that in the eternal forest, far from the haunts of civilized men, he has repented of the crime he committed, and found that peace and trust in the future which is Life's most precious possession.